Leadership Lesson from Band of Brothers

One of my favorite moments in Band of Brothers — the nothing-short-of-amazing HBO series that tracks the grind of Easy Company across Europe during World War II — comes at the end of Episode 8 when the war is winding down and the men of Easy Company are doing all that they can to stay alive because they can finally see themselves as survivors.

Rumors of German surrender are running rampant and resistance on the front lines is almost nonexistent.  Divisions and battalions and companies on both sides of the front settle into a comfortable stalemate — unwilling to risk death in the last days of a horrible war that saw too many men lost.

The men of Easy Company are angered when Colonel Cink — their commanding officer — orders them to cross the lines in a midnight raid designed to capture enemy soldiers that can be interrogated for intelligence on the state of the German army.  Taught to take orders, however, the men move forward with the raid despite being uncomfortable with the risk of losing a man so close to the end of the war.

In some ways, the nighttime mission is a success.  Easy Company captures two soldiers who are returned to the American lines for interrogation.  But during the raid, a young private named Jackson is mortally wounded after entering a building too closely behind a grenade meant to clear the room of Germans.  Watching him bleed out is devastating for the men, reinforcing the truly senseless nature of the war.

The next morning, Colonel Cink commends the men for their successful mission and orders them to return to the German lines the next night to capture more prisoners.

His order seems senseless to the men of Easy Company.  How could capturing additional prisoners from the same German regiment provide additional information?  Worse yet, his orders seem self-serving:  Cink sees the heroic actions of Easy Company as nothing more than professional feathers in his cap.

As the men of Easy Company meet with their Battalion Commander — Major Dick Winters — to plan the attack, they are caught off-guard.  Winters orders his men to do nothing more than report back to him in the morning that their efforts to cross the German lines were thwarted and that no additional prisoners could be captured.  “Am I understood?” he asks.  The grateful men recognize immediately that Winters is telling them to ignore the orders of Colonel Sink in an attempt to keep them out of harm’s way.

Can you see the leadership lesson in the story of Colonel Cink and Captain Winters?

The men of Easy Company were counting on Captain Winters to protect them — and in this circumstance, protecting them required creative interpretation of the rules.  Winters recognized that the task assigned to his men wasn’t worth it, so he found a way to keep his men safe — even if it meant risking his own professional standing with his superiors.

Teachers depend on principals to protect them as well.  We are constantly buried in programs and projects that pull our time and attention away from our core work.  With little organizational authority, we’re forced to invest energy and effort into tasks assigned by folks further up the organizational pyramid whether those tasks are well-thought out or not.

When school leaders take a stand by pushing back against “orders” that are pointless, they earn the trust and respect of the teachers working in their buildings.

Any of this make sense?


Related Radical Reads:

School Leadership is a lot like Lifeguarding

What Can the Principals of PLCs Learn from Antarctic Disasters?

Three Simple Sherpa Lessons for School Leaders

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  • John Wink

    Us vs Them


    I loved this post as it had such great imagery. The principalship is the most difficult position in the whole system. Balancing district priorities with the needs of a staff is a tight-rope that few can walk successfully. 

    I like the idea that leaders need to do what’s best for the preservation of great teachers; however, I truly believe the best principals stand up for teachers rather than tell them to disregard district initiatives. A great principal sees the vision of the district and advocates for the teachers by clearly articulating the teachers’ actions that must be protected from frivolous district directives. 

    in a toxic district culture I can see the need to avoid confrontation, but in a healthy district culture confrontation of unproductive mandates must be a requirement for all principals. 

  • KrisGiere

    Trust and safety


    Your post reminds me how much we need to feel safe and how much we yearn to trust those who surround us each day.  Those feelings of trust and safety are essential to our well being.  There is a great TEDTalk by Simon Sinek about Why Good Leaders Make Us Feel Safe.  Check it out.  It echoes your sentiments pretty well I think.




  • shanefranks

    Leadership Lesson

    We have to develop our leadership skills, in order to improve our personality as well as skills. Due to lack of leadership attitude, in most of the occasion, we are facing several kinds of problems such as; lack of confidence, lack of success and many others. Therefore, it is quite better to learn good leadership lessons from experts and from this above article, we can learn some basic tips about leadership lessons. Thanks for such wonderful tips.